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Remembering Cliff Kopp

October 19, 2016 - 12:05am

Cliff loved puzzles and was a puzzle himself. He was challenging; running you through a series of innocuous questions inevitably leading to a conclusion he hand-picked for you. Cliff had many confusing personas; the unassailable hero dentist, the community builder, the mischief-prone Rotarian, and the relentless, obnoxious contrarian. He remarked that his favorite compliment came from Mayor Billy Kenoi as Cliff walked in, “you see that guy,” said Billy, “he’s a son of a bitch but he gets things done.” Cliff highly valued both descriptions. Nevertheless, Cliff was truly pleasurable company.

Recently, Cliff tackled perhaps our most intractable problem; homelessness. Cliff shared his insight, robed in 60 grit: “I don’t care about homeless people,” he exclaimed one afternoon at Quinn’s. Eventually I understood. Nonprofits strive to personalize problems, to help you relate to an individual’s challenges. Cliff understood that the people who have the means and opportunity to help were too far removed. The problem is not panhandling, sleeping on doorsteps, or even public defecation. The problem is that we, those chosen by the community to succeed, stand by and uncaringly do nothing.

My friend Cliff died at 10:45 a.m. on Friday. He is directly survived by his wife and sons, and indirectly so by children who needed a place to play, people who wanted to see Santa, patriots, women needing sanctuary from abuse, families struggling with hunger, and now, the thousands experiencing homelessness. Although he would never accept this from me, I’d like to take this last opportunity to thank him.

Cliff, thank you for donating your time and your earnings, thank you for leading so many efforts to improve the place we live, and thank you for caring and showing us how to care for those you’ve never met. You are already missed.

En Young is Hawaii Island Food Bank’s executive director

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